By Kel Fox
I remember being a kid and running out the door, tearing across the gravel driveway and exploring the garden, parks or paddocks nearby with nothing but the soles of my feet to connect with the ground. As an adult, I can barely walk across a gravel road now without the pebbles being too uncomfortable. But I recall my barefoot childhood with great fondness, and I still try to go barefoot whenever I can. If I’m not using machinery, I will garden barefoot. I walk around parks barefoot. I kick off my shoes as soon as I step onto some grass. One of my favourite barefoot experiences was walking through a patch of woodland in France, feeling the wild grass beneath my feet, hopping onto fallen logs to grip the bark with my toes and stepping into puddles just to feel the cool mud squeeze out from under my heels.
I think we wear shoes, as adults, for two main reasons: we are more intellectually informed about the dangers of being barefoot – cuts, injury, infection – and there is a sense of impropriety when being barefoot in a place where all other adults are wearing shoes. Perhaps it suggests a lack of responsibility and maturity to go barefoot. Or perhaps it makes the rest of us feel insecure as we’ve lost our childhood belief that the world is a safe and wondrous place to explore. With bare feet.
There are two good reasons to not wear shoes though: the foot’s natural movement is inhibited by shoes, and being barefoot on the Earth connects us electrically, allowing a flow of electrons between our bodies and the Earth that has been shown to have positive health effects. Provided we are sensible about when we shed the shoes (not when mowing the lawn, or walking through snake areas, or somewhere with glass debris, and probably not at a cocktail party, although by all means challenge some social norms if you’re up for it) there are some great benefits to being barefoot.
Research is being done into the effects of wearing shoes over the human lifetime, and while it is too soon yet to have specific answers, we do know that wearing shoes impacts foot motion and joint action, even changing the natural human gait. The movements of the feet have an impact on the rest of the body’s mechanics: incorrect foot action can cause problems for the ankles, knees, hips and spine. Being barefoot allows us to engage the tiny muscles of the feet and connect to the ground with a greater sense of physical awareness. It improves proprioception and balance.
All that can be achieved indoors or out. The real magic of being barefoot is outside, out in the wild, where prickles lurk and sharp grasses might lash at your legs. This is where we are “earthed”, or connected electrically to the ground. The benefits of allowing this flow of electrons include reduced inflammation, enhanced capacity to heal, reduced stress and better mental clarity. I know for myself that when I’m struggling in the office, the best thing is for me to get out to the lawn and be barefoot on the earth for ten minutes. I can walk around, do yoga, lie down or just stand there: it’s all about the grounding.
Most of the time, the benefits of being barefoot – more natural gait, better foot action, being earthed – will outweigh the risks of getting a prickle or a scratch. Let’s celebrate the Earth Day by letting ourselves connect with it.
Earthing: the most important health discovery ever? Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra & Martin Zucker. Basic Health Publications Inc. 2010.